by: Coleman Taylor
At the Boone County Quorum Court Committee meeting on Tuesday night a discussion about low water bridges arose as a result of recent wash offs and the disappearance of John and Amy Villines who were assumedly washed away by a flash flood on Nov. 30th, 2018 and have yet to be found.
This issue is not a new one, Boone County Sheriff Mike Moore said that there are usually one to two reports of people being washed off low water bridges while attempting to cross in their vehicle per year. Sheriff Moore said his best advice, “Err on the side of caution… If there is any doubt [about whether or not it is safe to cross a low water bridge] don’t cross.” He also agreed that most county bridges, except for those in the Harrison City limits, do not have any warnings or gates to deter people from crossing during high water.
Another factor on some county bridges is moss. Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway said, “I’ve seen moss so slick on some of those bridges that you couldn’t hardly walk on them.”
Court committees discussed adding some type of markers to county bridges to indicate whether they are safe to cross, however exactly what kind of warning will be most effective is difficult to determine.
One idea presented was that of a simple road sign warning of potential for high water and the danger of crossing during heavy rains but road signs in Boone County have a tendency of disappearing. Judge Hathaway said, “Road signs don’t work because they get stolen faster than we can put them up.” Other members of the Court agreed and said that simple road signs would be ineffective.
Another idea was a type of water level indicator that would be painted green up to the point that it is safe to cross the bridge, and red at the level that crossing becomes unsafe, and potentially holding those who are swept off while crossing at unsafe water levels responsible to pay a fee for their rescued. The problem with this is that Boone County low water bridges are designed to drop 18 inches from the edge of the road to the middle of the bridge. Therefore, putting up a marker of that sort will not work because the save water level marking would have to be below the surface of the ground as even six inches of water can make bridges unsafe to cross. And all justices agreed that they do not want to prevent someone from calling 9-1-1 in that situation in order to avoid paying a fine.
Low water bridges in the City of Harrison are equipped with yellow gates that are closed when water rises to an unsafe level. However, Judge Hathaway and the rest of the court agreed that adding gates to all county bridges would be unfeasible, because there are approximately 50 low water bridges in Boone County. There are not enough resources to make sure the gates are closed when water rises and reopened in a timely manner when water recedes. The court agrees that something needs to be done, but what is the best option remains a question. The matter will be discussed and investigated by committee and will be addressed again later. The best advice given by both Sheriff Moore and Judge Hathaway for the time being is to use extreme caution when deciding whether to cross low water bridges in Boone County.